System Collapse - Martha Wells
November 28, 2023 2:07 PM - Subscribe

The seventh entry in Wells’ Murderbot Diaries series, and set immediately following the events of Network Effect, finds everyone’s favorite SecUnit dealing with humans, colonists, nefarious corporations, and its own mental health.

This popped-up in my library’s online offerings a few days ago and I jumped on it immediately.

I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty underwhelmed by this one. It feels very thin and by-the-numbers. Even Murderbot’s smartass schtick felt tired. A reviewer on Tor opined that it felt more less like a novella and more like pages cut from Network Effect, and I think that’s fair.

NE came out three years ago. If you haven’t read it recently, I strongly suggest you go back and bring yourself back up-to-speed with the events of that novel before jumping into System Collapse. I plan to go back to it, too, and then hit this one again, to see if things gel better for me.
posted by Thorzdad (24 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I’m not gonna lie, I’m pretty underwhelmed by this one. It feels very thin and by-the-numbers.

I'm going to start reading the book right now, and I was a bit afraid this would happen. Oh well. I will be back shortly with my thoughts either way. :)
posted by Literaryhero at 3:32 PM on November 28, 2023

I only found out this was out because I was looking to buy book 1 for my daughter. I'm on the waiting list at my library and it looks like it'll be a couple of months until it's my turn. I'll be back then!
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 3:35 PM on November 28, 2023

Still reading it, but Cruel Romance Personage would be a good user name.
posted by chrisulonic at 5:30 PM on November 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

I didn't like this one nearly as much as any of the previous ones. Part of it was that the schtick felt old, partly that ArtDrone didn't act enough like ART, part was a huge uptick in the profanity (I don't mind it at all in my personal life--ask my partner or my coworkers! But it was a huge increase from the previous six books [no, I haven't checked each of them out as ebooks and used CTRL+F to get actual counts; yes, I've been tempted]), and part of it was that one of the plot threads mentioned in the flap summary didn't get resolved. Maybe that last complaint is because Wells has contracted for another few books, but that's a bold choice to start making 7 books into a series and, for the first time ever, I feel pretty "meh" about reading future volumes.
posted by johnofjack at 6:14 PM on November 28, 2023

I'd agree that it feels like _Network Effect_ was getting too big and this got excised and reworked to be its own thing and more clearly about ptsd.


Even Murderbot’s smartass schtick felt tired.

I'm pretty sure that's true for Murderbot too. Murderbot is tired of the internal and external defenses it's thrown up to keep itself safe. It's tired of having to be Murderbot. For sure, y'all could be right and this one was kinda phoned in.

one of the plot threads mentioned in the flap summary didn't get resolved

What are you thinking of? I don't have a physical copy and so don't have a flap to see.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 6:30 PM on November 28, 2023 [2 favorites]

Ah, well ... spoilers, for anyone who wasn't expecting them:

the cause of the imagined memories/why it happened/how to avoid it happening again.
posted by johnofjack at 6:53 PM on November 28, 2023

They're not imagined; they're bits of pieces of stuff that happened to Murderbot and that it saw/did. It's happening because the bot parts of its brain kept getting wiped but the meat parts of its brain aren't wipeable, so they're floating around half-remembered... and for the usual ptsd reasons. They'll improve because Murderbot grumpily "agreed" to start trauma therapy with ART.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:34 PM on November 28, 2023 [4 favorites]

I guess. I was talking specifically about Murderbot's "memory" of having its leg eaten by a zombie, which it and ART and the humans all agree never happened and was cause for concern. The book description alludes to this as "But there's something wrong with Murderbot; it isn't running within normal operational parameters" and concludes "they're going to have to hope Murderbot figures out what's wrong with itself, and fast." Except towards the end of the book Murderbot says that they still don't know why it had that false memory and then it basically shrugs it off.

Maybe trauma therapy is meant to solve this and maybe it isn't--I'd say that having false memories is a sign of being a person--but on the whole, I did not find the treatment of it narratively satisfying.
posted by johnofjack at 3:33 AM on November 29, 2023

I enjoyed this one, mostly because it felt different from previous books!
posted by maryellenreads at 12:00 PM on November 29, 2023

My experience with a lot of jacket flap copy is that it reads like it's written by people who have only skimmed the book, possibly only the first few chapters, so I don't hold that against the book. (Names misspelled, minor incidents treated as major plot points, tone mismatches, etc.) But I do agree that the :redacted: situation would have benefited from a bit more attention.
posted by expialidocious at 12:04 PM on November 29, 2023

I'm not usually sensitive to in media res beginnings, but this one deeply wrong-footed me and I never fully recovered.

As much as we might wish that all Murderbot books be perfect, some are just going to be okay.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:18 PM on November 29, 2023

I can’t say I expected a perfect book, but this one just felt half-hearted. I’ve started re-reading Network Effect and the difference is night-and-day.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:44 PM on November 29, 2023

I think it mainly suffered from lack of existential questions. Hopefully future stories go back to that, maybe unintended consequences of freeing the other units, or some out of context problems arising.
posted by Marticus at 6:09 PM on November 29, 2023

Apparently I’m the odd woman out because I thoroughly enjoyed this.
posted by Tabitha Someday at 9:07 PM on November 29, 2023 [3 favorites]

So, I’m just shy of halfway through my re-read of Network Effect and it’s definitely helped fill-in a lot of the backstory for System Collapse. It’s also been a solid reminder why I love this series so much.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:32 AM on December 1, 2023 [2 favorites]

Along the lines of what others have said, I think this would have hit more soundly if it had been published directly after Network Effect without Fugitive Telemetry and Home: Habitat,Niche,... bouncing around the timeline.

That said, System Collapse might end up as a good transition point in the series. By the end, Martha Wells has previewed a possible collapse of the Corporate Rim system (wait what was this book called again?) due to intra-Corporate violence.

Also, before Network Effect , Murderbot and ART appeared to be relatively unique as independent AIs. By the end of System Collapse, there was at least Three, unarmed B-E SecUnit, and Holism. So, concurrent with a CR Collapse there’s a potential wave of AI liberation going on.

If Martha Wells wants to keep writing in an expanded Murderbot Universe, she’s set herself up with options.
posted by chrisulonic at 9:39 AM on December 3, 2023 [3 favorites]

I need to read this again, but overall my impressions are:

(1) It's definitely a rough start, but I have found this to be something of a constant in Wells' books -- there's always a steep learning curve that is repaid by the richness of the narrative once you can get into it. In series starters, as well as (thus-far) standalone books like Witch King and City of Bones, it's kind of obvious that the initial setup of a new alien world would impose this kind of burden, but I think the thing with Wells is that there's so much world-building going on at all times that even several books deep in a series there's still going to be a pretty steep learning curve for each story. I found the opening of this one annoying but by the time I got to the end I felt like it was worth it.

(2) Much like the last two Raksura books, this could have been so much better if had been better edited. (Honestly it doesn't feel like it was edited much at all.) I hope this is just a temporary reflection of all the stuff going on in her life, but I am a bit concerned.
posted by Not A Thing at 10:42 AM on December 3, 2023 [1 favorite]

I listened to Network Effect again and I think I was just wrong about the amount of profanity in Murderbot books. Maybe the difference is that if I'm not involved in the work it feels gratuitous.

At any rate, I'm glad that some people enjoyed this one.
posted by johnofjack at 7:32 AM on December 6, 2023

I felt lukewarm about it also; I think it was an issue of stakes and scope; after fighting multiple {Combat, Sec, CombatSec,TargetCamo,GiantAg}Units over the course of the series a handful of SecUnits and some generic corporates at a backwater was underwhelming.
posted by theclaw at 8:28 PM on December 14, 2023

(As an aside, Murderbot's being adapted for Apple TV. A post on the blue.)
posted by Pronoiac at 10:58 PM on December 14, 2023 [1 favorite]

Finished it. It was okay, not as good as Network Effect but I enjoyed it more than Fugitive Telemetry. I agree it suffers from a lack of editing, but I’m glad I read it.

Much like The Expanse and Wayfarers, I reread each Murderbot novel 3-5 times. This one will be a 3 or 4.
posted by Ryvar at 11:51 PM on December 15, 2023

It’s been a minute since I read any of the other entries in the series, so I don’t feel confident in making comparisons. It does feel transitional, coming off of Network Effect and bridging into what comes next.

I enjoyed the small moments in the ongoing theme of the role media plays in mediating between people:

- The mention of Murderbot and Pin-Lee enjoying disaster analysis reports
- Three’s preference for nonfiction and educational media over the fictional serials preferred by ART and Murderbot

And Murderbot’s insight regarding the documentary put together for the colonists: “It’s not just the data that has to be correct. But the way that you present it has to feel right, be right.”
posted by audi alteram partem at 4:54 PM on December 24, 2023

This is definitely one of the weaker entries in the series; it felt less willing to examine things deeply. But I still enjoyed it. I thought it picked up considerably in the second half.
posted by kyrademon at 9:25 AM on December 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

Not as much might have happened in this book but I started reading this on the bus home from work and almost missed my stop because I was so engrossed in it. Then when I got home I continued reading and finished it. All on my phone because I didn't want to faff around with downloading it to an ereader and continuing on that.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 1:17 PM on January 19 [1 favorite]

« Older Beacon 23: God in the Machine...   |  A Murder at the End of the Wor... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments